Monday, January 14, 2008

Pragmatic Marketing Rule #13

This is the thirteenth in a series of posts on Practical Product Management Rules from Pragmatic Marketing.

Pragmatic Marketing Rule #13: Every "product" needs a product manager and a business case.

In my experience, most B2B technology companies do a pretty good job with making sure that all their products have a product manager. Of course, sometimes the product manager ends up with multiple products - which is okay, especially if they're on the smallish side and in the same family, but which can lead to product attention deficit if the products are on the biggish side and not all that related. But, mostly, products tend to have product managers.

Which is a good thing.

But those business cases....

Products start out in many ways.

Sometimes the product gets developed by someone who thinks it's a good idea and just goes ahead and does it. (This happens with special regularity in the wonderful world of software.)

In this case, the product manager may find the product flying (metaphorically) over their (metaphorical) transom, and find themselves tasked with creating a business case. This tends to be a bad thing. Here you have a product that may have been a good technical idea. Or a good idea in general. But now you have to figure out the positioning: who it's for, what they do with it, and what it does for them. In a far, far better world, all this will be figured out before the product is created.

Sometimes a product starts out with a business case. Which is a good thing. But then, somehow, the business case never gets updated. It may never even get looked at. It is/was "just" the hurdle that product management had to leap over in order to get the darned thing developed.

This approach is a bad thing.

If you don't bother to regularly update - or even create anew - your product's business case you run a lot of dangers:

  • Missed market opportunities
  • Missed product enhancement opportunities
  • Pricing that leaves $$$ on the table
  • Putting too many resources on Product X - and too few on Product Y
  • Hanging on to a product that really should be end-of-lifed

We all know how easy it is to keep chugging along, doing the same thing quarter after quarter, year after year. If you're a product manager, you probably know this drill by heart. You do your job. You take care of all the basics and cover all the bases: product requirements - check; documentation - check; QA - check; project plan - check; product launch - check; sales tools - check; sales training - check; etc - check.

It's so darned easy to never take the time to critically examine your product's raison d'etre - and really figuring out whether there's enough raison to keep the d'etre going.

Product managers, it's never too late.

If you have products that last had a business case made for them in ought-four, time to create one. And trust me, you may have some tiny little fear that a business case will end up putting your product out of business, as it were. And putting your job at risk.

Truly, this is a remote, remote possibility and, in fact, the best way to make sure it doesn't happen is to make sure that the product(s) you manage have a strong case behind them.

So what are you waiting for? Get going! You should have a business case for your product, if not on you at all times, at least within fingertip reach.

The unexamined life is not worth living, and, in the end, the unexamined product is not worth managing.

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